‘Shame On You’: New York Times Antisemitic Cartoon Controversy Escalates
The controversy is escalating over a cartoon published by the New York Times that depicted a dog with the face of the Israeli prime minister leading a yarmulke-wearing President Trump.
The cartoon was published in the International New York Times on Thursday, April 25.
On Saturday April 27, the Times acknowledged that the cartoon “included anti-Semitic tropes” and that “it was an error of judgment to publish it.” That statement was deemed inadequate by at least one major Jewish group, the American Jewish Committee.
On Sunday, April 28, the Times issued a second statement that went further than its initial explanation. This second statement — signed by no individual person taking responsibility, only the bland, institutional, anonymous “Times Opinion,” — said, “We are deeply sorry for the publication of an anti-Semitic political cartoon last Thursday in the print edition of the New York Times that circulates outside of the United States, and we are committed to make sure nothing like this happens again. Such imagery is always dangerous, and at a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise worldwide, it’s all the more unacceptable. We have investigated what happened and learned that, because of a faulty process, a single editor working without adequate oversight downloaded the syndicated cartoon and made the decision to include it on the Opinion page. The matter remains under review, and we are evaluating our internal processes and training. We anticipate significant changes.”
The second Times statement on the matter came after the vice president of the United States, Mike Pence, spoke out on the issue. “We stand with Israel and we condemn antisemitism in ALL its forms, including @nytimes political cartoons,” Pence tweeted.
It also came as several people said they were canceling their New York Times subscriptions in protest.
A columnist of the Times, Bret Stephens, condemned the cartoon: “Here was an image that, in another age, might have been published in the pages of Der Stürmer. The Jew in the form of a dog. The small but wily Jew leading the dumb and trusting American. The hated Trump being Judaized with a skullcap. The nominal servant acting as the true master. The cartoon checked so many anti-Semitic boxes that the only thing missing was a dollar sign.”
Stephens also took issue with his own newspaper’s public explanation of the situation. “The paper’s position is that it is guilty of a serious screw-up but not a cardinal sin. Not quite,” Stephens wrote, citing, “the almost torrential criticism of Israel and the mainstreaming of anti-Zionism, including by this paper, which has become so common that people have been desensitized to its inherent bigotry. So long as anti-Semitic arguments or images are framed, however speciously, as commentary about Israel, there will be a tendency to view them as a form of political opinion, not ethnic prejudice.”
The second Times statement also left President Obama’s former ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, not entirely satisfied. Ambassador Shapiro tweeted that the second statement was “better.” He wrote, “The full apology is appropriate and placed in the correct context. More details of the explanation are still warranted, as is a full accounting of the changes they say are coming. (Obviously, it should never have happened in the first place.)”
A former Israeli diplomat in Washington, Lenny Ben-David, said he was a college newspaper editor and worked for the New York Times as a college stringer. “The belated apology is still full of flaming BS,” Ben-David wrote, asking, “Is this contrition or a cover up?”
The CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, Jonathan Greenblatt, described the Times apology as “insufficient.” He called on the Times to “do more,” including instituting sensitivity training for its staff on antisemitism.
Greenblatt called the Times cartoon “antisemitic propaganda of the most vile sort” and said, “this was not simply a management misstep but a moral failing of major proportions. The @nytimes owes the Jewish community more than an apology. We need accountability and action.”
For at least some long-suffering Times readers, the cartoon episode was the final straw. Ross Gerber tweeted, “Please join me in canceling the anti-Semitic @nytimes on the day jews were murdered in another hate crime. Yes #NYT you are the problem too. Goodbye after many many years. I’ve had enough.”
Another now former Times customer, with the Twitter handle @Maltman613, wrote, “Here is my opinion @nytopinion: I just canceled my subscription. I have been getting the papers since birth. Literally. My parents subscribed throughout my childhood. As soon as I left for college I became a subscriber on my own and kept it for the next 35 yrs. Shame on you.”
Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. More of his media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.